Proven Ways to Detect Lies on a Resume

Up to 25% of C-Suite executives falsify their resumes and at least one third of all resumes contain misinformation: a made-up award; an embellished title; even an imaginary degree. Deception in the workplace is more frequent that we want to acknowledge, making it more important for effective managers to spot.

Just ask the University of Notre Dame.

In December 2001, the University’s renowned football program lured George O’Leary, then the head coach of Georgia Tech, to be the head coach for the Fighting Irish. For Notre Dame, it was a coup. In his six years as head coach to Georgia tech, O’Leary led the team to five winning seasons and had built a solid reputation in NCAA football.

O’Learly was not everything he made himself out to be, however.

It quickly came to light that the college from which he claimed on his resume to have graduated, “NYU-Stony Brook,” did not even exist. In fact, it was a lie created by combining the names of two New York schools some 50 miles apart from each other. Just as troubling, O’Leary claimed to have played football for the University of New Hampshire – but the school claimed he had not even played in one game.

With his lies revealed, O’Leary was forced to resign from his head coach position just five days on the job. In a statement announcing his resignation, O’Leary stated “In seeking employment, I prepared a resume that contained inaccuracies regarding my completion of course work for a Master’s Degree and also my level of participation in football.”

While padding a resume was a risky and embarrassing endeavor for O’Leary, he is certainly not alone. Deception on resumes can start with a well-intentioned embellishment of a job title, or perhaps a generous overstatement of work responsibilities. It can quickly escalate, however, and the repercussions can be serious. Notre Dame’s experience highlights the need for employers to carefully spot those resume lies.

Training in deception detection can significantly improve an employer’s success rate in hiring. One study highlighted in the book Liespotting found that trained interviewers could identify 60% more criminal convictions, 80% more cases of alcohol abuse during work, and 32% more job dismissal than untrained interviewers could find.

3 Responses to Proven Ways to Detect Lies on a Resume

  1. Anna says:

    I agree with all except the “gaps in employment,” which are often legitimate. “Voice inflection” is also iffy. The rest are very good.

  2. Randy Clark says:

    I am on board. I have experienced the fabricated resume too many times. So how do you find the lie?

    1. Check and compare dates. Look for gaps in employment, overlapping dates that would be difficult to coincide. Incomplete or contradicting information is a red flag yelling, “Dig in!” with who, what, when, where, why.
    2. Check references. As far as employment, most organizations will not offer more than employment dates, but at least you can verify the truth. And, try this, do not ask for human resources ask for the direct supervisor and ask, “ Between you and me, off the record, would you rehire this person?” Follow up with “Why?” and you may be rewarded.
    3. Complete a background check. The state of Indiana hired a Director of State retirement funds with access to all State employee Social Security numbers, who had been convicted of identity theft. You guessed it, no background check. Most States offer this service for $20-30
    4. Check driving records – I cannot tell you how many times an application has asked for a valid DL to find out it was not valid, they lied. If they are not mature enough to retain a DL? If they lie about that? I have the same though on credit checks for certain positions. I once was mentored with, “Why would I let someone use my money when they cannot handle his or her own!”
    5. Ask character related questions. My favorite is what would you like to improve about yourself. A thoughtful answer may inform me they are honest, aware of weaknesses, and may be trying to improve (you gotta know where to start). An answer like “I need to be a better giver” makes me gag and tells me they are more concerned with impressing than truthing. If they do not share a weakness either they are unaware (not someone trying to be a better human) or they are a liar.
    6. Watch body language, do a little research, an easy one is if they are covering or touching their mouth while talking it may be a lie. Ask more questions.
    7. Voice inflection – rising inflection (think valley girls) is usually a sign of lack of confidence in what they are saying.

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